Surprisingly Solid Tampa Bay Rays Prospects From 2014
By Robbie Knopf
It isn’t all that difficult to eyeball the statistics and tell which Tampa Bay Rays prospects are coming off breakout years. Luckily for Rays fans, their team doesn’t have any affiliates in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast and California Leagues, either of which could have made that process more complicated.
On the other hand, some Rays affiliates find themselves in environments that favor pitchers, making every Rays prospect’s hitting stats look weaker than they should be. The stars of each team still stick out, but we lose track of some solid players who still deserve some recognition. With some help from Carson Cistulli’s minor league WAR (mWAR), let’s look at a few such prospects.
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The Underrated Second Basemen: Tommy Coyle and Kean Wong
It wasn’t until the Australian Baseball League that Coyle started hitting like crazy, but we shouldn’t be quite as upset as have been with his regular season performance. Coyle hit to just a .249/.331/.345 line, but we forget that he did so in a league with a .695 OPS. When we consider that he also stole 30 bases in 34 tries and did everything while playing second base, he was worth 2.3 mWAR, making him a slightly above-average starter.
Wong’s .306 average from last season looks quite shiny, but we also know that he managed just a .347 OBP and a .370 SLG. Wong’s pure hitting is excellent, but we can’t ignore his lack of on-base skills and power at this point in his career. Even so, his .717 OPS was actually 4% above the league average and 3% above his team average. We know he has more work to do, but we can’t complain about his performance as a 19 year old at Low-A.
Doing a Little Bit of Everything: Leonardo Reginatto and Ariel Soriano
There are certainly reasons to forget about Leonardo Reginatto. He will turn 25 in April, he looked terrible in his brief Double-A stint from last season, and he has never hit for much power. On the other hand, he hit to a .755 OPS as Coyle’s teammate in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League showing off good plate discipline and stealing 14 bases in 16 tries. Best of all, he did so while playing most of his games at shortstop.
Soriano, meanwhile, hit to a .262/.305/.412 line in 249 plate appearances while splitting his time almost evenly between Low-A and High-A. He showed a little pop, a little speed, a little plate discipline, and a lot of versatility. The 22 year old saw time at shortstop, second base, and all three outfield positions. On the whole, he was worth 1.1 mWAR, or 2.6 per 600 plate appearances.
Don’t Completely Discount His Excellence: Ty Young
Young’s 2015 role is in question because the Rays simply have too many talented infielders set to play at Charlotte. Nevertheless, the 13th-best position player in the Rays system per mWAR (2.9) deserves to be mentioned. On the whole, Young hit to a .252/.355/.432 line with 17 doubles, 8 triples, 9 homers, and 50 RBI in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League.
Young doesn’t have the prototypical power for a third baseman, but the good news for him is that he can also play second base. It is hard to see him getting much time there in the Rays system, but he is worthy of an opportunity to prove himself somewhere, whether it’s with the Rays or another organization.
Lost Among the Names at Short-Season Ball: Jace Conrad, Riley Unroe, and David Rodriguez
The OPS’s in 2014 in the New York-Penn League, Appalachian League, and Gulf Coast League: .674, .683, and .677. Very few players hit at all, making what this trio did all the more impressive.
Conrad hit to a .265/.297/.362 line with 19 stolen bases in 24 tries for the Hudson Valley Renegades. His bat clearly needs work, but between his speed and spectacular defense at second base, the Rays will give him a few chances to get himself together offensively.
Unroe, on the other hand, hit to just a .226/.315/.325 line, but he did so with excellent plate discipline (47-29 strikeout to walk ratio) and while playing both shortstop and second base. We were willing to say before that his approach and defense were enough for us to forget about his rough year, but his 2.1 mWAR per 600 plate appearances reminds us that his season wasn’t so bad to begin with.
Finally, Rodriguez is a prospect we should get to know much better. He hit to a .273/.342/.383 line in 146 plate appearances. The biggest deal is that he did so as an 18-year-old catcher nearly two years below the league’s average age. He was also the team’s best catcher defensively despite his youth.
On the whole, Rodriguez was worth 1.0 mWAR and an incredible 4.0 per 600 plate appearances. He is light years away from the major leagues and has plenty of development left to do, but it is always notable when such a young player performs the way he did. The Rays have enough catching prospects, but Rodriguez has the ability to join the list.
2014 was better than it appeared for all eight of these players, and they will hope to deliver more universally acknowledged results next season. If they can perform like that, a couple of these Rays prospects–“specifically Unroe, Wong, and Rodriguez–have the ability to emerge as top prospects.